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Hoot, Whoo Deli, Droubi’s shift locations

Photo by Andrew Ta | The Rice Thresher

The remodeled serving window in the Rice Memorial Center that will house 4.Tac0 during lunch and The Hoot in the evening. Droubi's Mediterranean Grill, which previously occupied the spot, has moved to the South Servery.

By Amber Tong     8/27/15 11:33am

Hungry Owls returning in the fall may be in for a surprise. The Rice Memorial Center is undergoing renovations to accommodate significant changes in the campus food scene. 4.TacO and The Hoot will be located in what was formerly the window of Droubi’s Mediterranean Grill in the RMC, Droubi’s will move into South Servery and Whoo Deli will move into Sammy’s. 

According to Susann Glenn, manager of communications for Facilities, Engineering and Planning, the changes are in response to a survey.

“We sent out a retail dining survey [to] check in with faculty, staff, graduate students — the people who would most frequent our retail operations,” Glenn said.

Glenn said Whoo Deli, a brand owned by Rice and the campus’ top food seller, is moving from its current location at South Servery into Sammy’s lounge in the RMC to increase its visibility and accessibility.

“The deli has a loyal following, and moving it to this location centralizes it [in] the campus,” Glenn said. “It also exposes it to some people who may not have ventured down to the south part of campus to eat. With the number of visitors that travels through the student center, it’s just an excellent option.”

Chef and Dining Director Johnny Curet said he expects Droubi’s move to the South Servery where the Whoo Deli was located will benefit the restaurant’s operation.

“We wanted to give Droubi’s a solid location for some dining,” Curet said. “Some of the things that you as an operator have to deal with is sometimes we [have] to close this area down based on the RMC schedule for events. … [In the future they can] operate more successfully, more consistently.”

A.J. Droubi, owner of Droubi’s, said while the interior design has improved, customers are still getting used to its new location.

“It is much prettier but too quiet,” Droubi said. “I hope we will be able to have some of our customers back and generate some sales.”

However, Droubi said the new location adds exercise to the Droubi’s experience.

“My motto now is that the Mediterranean diet has gotten healthier: A few minutes of walking to our new location can keep you in better shape!” Droubi said.

According to Brad Thacker, senior operations manager of food services, 4.TacO will move into the serving window that is being emptied as Droubi’s leaves, possibly introducing breakfast options in the RMC.

Additionally, The Hoot will combine its South and North operations to one central location in the RMC, the serving window, according to Curet. The Hoot and 4.TacO will use the window at different times.  

Joanna Weedlun, general manager of The Hoot, said The Hoot management team is thrilled to announce its relocation. According to Weedlun, operating in one location instead of two will allow the late night food provider to focus more on serving customers.

“Reselling hot food is a very tricky business model, and is made even more difficult by having two locations,” Weedlun, a Hanszen College senior, said. “By consolidating The Hoot into one central location, we can strengthen our business model and increase innovation for our customer base.”

Weedlun also said centralizing is not a recent idea; previous Hoot management teams have thought about it, and the current team has worked on it for a while.

“The process of this move actually began years ago and has been a goal for many Hoot management teams,” Weedlun said. “The Hoot has planned ahead and budgeted for this move.”

Rice Coffeehouse general manager Mason Daumas said being under the same roof as The Hoot will likely benefit the operation by increasing traffic.

“We expect the Hoot’s new location to increase business at Coffeehouse,” Daumas, a Wiess College senior, said. “When people go to the Hoot to get food, they’ll also have the option to stop at Coffeehouse and caffeinate themselves. That wasn’t true when the Hoot was working out of two locations.”

In addition to infrastructure changes, Curet said there will also be new food options.

“One of the things that we started with with 4.TacO recently was the Korean taco and, believe it or not, it’s our number one taco now,” Curet said. “[The demand] is more Asian food, more grab-and-go, and more Indian food ... We’re still testing an Indian taco.”

According to Glenn, the relocation and expansion of the menu are meant to reflect consumption demands and patterns.

“This is all done with a lot of thought and really looking at what trends we’re seeing,” Glenn said. “It’s not just a knee-jerk reaction.”

Anastasia Bolshakov, (Duncan ’15) who worked with H&D and was involved in reviewing the survey results, said the feedback helped H&D understand community needs.

“I think that a lot of the feedback was really eye-opening, and some of it was contradictory,” Bolshakov said. “It’s important to remember that you are not going to please everyone.”

Bolshakov said moving Droubi’s and Whoo Deli will benefit each of them.

“Now [Droubi’s will] have their own dining room, a bigger space and a kitchen they won’t have to share,” Bolshakov said. “It is nice that the Whoo Deli is in a more central location now too. People were often complaining that the Hanszen Annex was too far of a walk, and you can’t really get any more central than the RMC.” 

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